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Aspen rocks!! (Well, maybe a little)

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times photo/Stewart Oksenhorn.Bruce Cockburn makes a return appearance at the Wheeler Opera House on Dec. 27.
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It’s been a long time since Aspen seemed like a center of the rock world. And it’s a few years since Aspen could even rightly claim its place as the rock capital of the ski world. These days? Aspen probably can’t even call itself the rock capital of the Roaring Fork Valley.But Aspen will have more than a few rocking moments in the months ahead. The ski season concert calendar is starting to shape up, and while it won’t remind anybody of the mid-90s or the early ’70s … well, let’s just say Aspen still outrocks Basalt.Here’s a look at concerts – bluegrass, folk, blues, African and, yes, even some genuine, plugged-in, turn-the-amps-to-11 rock ‘n’ roll – on the books for the upper valley.Michael Martin MurpheyNov. 19, Wheeler Opera HouseMichael Martin Murphey, the Texas-bred singing cowboy, may not be a quick association with Christmas. But beginning in 1987, Murphey began giving his “Cowboy Christmas” concerts. He has since recorded three “Cowboy Christmas” albums, which include such tunes as “The Night Before Cowboy Christmas.” A likely highlight of the show is “The Cowboys Christmas Ball,” which was well-known in West Texas in the late 19th century.Harry ManxNov. 20, WheelerHarry Manx is your ordinary Delta-style bluesman crossed with Indian-folk player. On his latest album, “West Eats Meet,” the Canadian plays fairly straight-up Mississippi blues – including such well-worn tunes as “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and Willie Dixon’s “Help Me” – and gives it an Eastern accent with flourishes of Indian string instruments, the tamboura and the mohan veena, and the tabla, a percussion instrument.Big Head Todd and the MonstersNov. 27, downtown AspenAs with last year’s explosive show with punk band the Offspring, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s free concert series lands in downtown Aspen again. This time, there should be a different feel – and far fewer words not printable in The Aspen Times – as jam-rockers Big Head Todd and the Monsters throw down on the Aspen streets. The Colorado trio, which formed at a Denver area high school in the ’80s, saw its popularity peak with 1993’s “Sister Sweetly.” But the band has continued its creative climb, and may have hit a new height with this year’s “Crimes of Passion.” More recently, the band released a two-disc live set, “Live at the Fillmore,” with a companion DVD.Next up in the series is Bronx-born singer-songwriter Ari Heist, who made his major label debut with this year’s “Someone to Tell.” He makes his Aspen debut Dec. 18 at the base of Aspen Mountain. And the Skico has four more dates, through the season in Aspen and Snowmass, with acts still to be announced.

John PrineDec. 9, Snowmass Conference CenterThanks to Bonnie Raitt, John Prine will always be remembered for the immortal “Angel From Montgomery.” But over 35 years, the Chicago-born singer-songwriter has created a vast collection of truthful observations in song from which to pull. True to the season, Prine should pull out his sad, funny and romantic “Christmas in Prison.”Collect All FiveDec. 10, Blue DoorDec. 19, Club ChelseaThough from the roots-rock capital of Austin, Texas, Collect All Five isn’t your standard Austin band. The all-instrumental group, formerly known as the Unified Feel Theory, mixes funk, jazz, Latin and world grooves.Rickie Lee JonesDec. 28, WheelerAfter establishing herself as the essence of cool with her series of jazz-inflected pop albums, Rickie Lee Jones had considered herself in retirement as a songwriter. And then came the Bush administration, the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. Jones got busy and last year released “The Evening of My Best Day,” with such unexpectedly political songs as “Ugly Man,” a sharp attack on the 43rd president, and “Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act),” a gospel finger-snapper that tweaks both the government and the media.Bruce CockburnDec. 29, Wheeler

Canadian singer-songwriter – and guitarist supreme – Bruce Cockburn returns to the Wheeler, after a blistering solo appearance there last Christmas season. On record, Cockburn has only gotten better over time, with recent CDs “You’ve Never Seen Everything” and “Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu” showing it remains possible to mix social commentary and rock. And in concert, Cockburn is the consummate performer.Hot TunaJan. 7, WheelerAfter Summer of Love superstars Jefferson Airplane broke up, the band split in two factions: Grace Slick led Jefferson Starship down a pop-rock path that started fine but grew increasingly cheesy, ending in the stomach-turning “We Built This City.” High school buddies Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady took a different route, forming the roots-rock band Hot Tuna, which is going strong after 30 years. Both principals are standout musicians who continue to grow: Guitarist Kaukonen’s 2003 album “Blue Country Heart” was a Grammy-nominated exploration of acoustic roots-country; last year, Casady made his solo debut with “Dream Factor.” But the two are at their best when together; the Wheeler gig has the four-piece Hot Tuna playing acoustic and electric sets.Jonny LangJan. 24-25, WheelerJust when the Wheeler roof should be recovering from Hot Tuna, hot young guitarist Jonny Lang enters the house. Lang has shown himself a fiery but overblown guitar-slinger in past appearances; this time, the acoustic setting should help tone things down. Still, it is a full-band performance, so bring the earplugs to be safe.Madeleine PeyrouxFeb. 3, WheelerFollowing loosely in the footsteps of Diana Krall, Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones is singer-guitarist Madeleine Peyroux. The American-born singer, who had been playing on the streets of Paris, is being hailed as yet another jazz-leaning singer with breakthrough potential on the strength of her new CD, “Careless Love.” Apparently a lot of promoters are interested in getting their hands on her; Peyroux’s Aspen debut is being co-promoted by Mountain Groove Productions, Jazz Aspen and the Wheeler Associates.”1964 – The Tribute”

March 12-13, WheelerForty years on, the mop-topped lads from Liverpool continue to fascinate us. “1964 – The Tribute,” a recreation of an early-period Beatles concert, keeps drawing crowds and earning raves in Aspen.Habib Koité & BamadaMarch 15, WheelerMalian guitarist Habib Koité and his band Bamada show the ongoing ties between West African and American music. Koité’s music reveals connections to blues, jazz, rock, soul and even the jam-band mentality.Marc CohnFeb. 24, WheelerYou never know when or where Marc Cohn will show up. After earning a best new artist Grammy in 1991, for his eponymous album that included the hit “Walking in Memphis,” and winning more praise with “The Rainy Season,” Cohn went four years before his next album. He hasn’t released a new work since 1998 – his next is due in 2005 – but he did contribute a song, “I Surrender,” to the recent “Crosby & Nash” CD.Beyond BluegrassMarch 16-19, WheelerBeyond Bluegrass has become a signature event for the Wheeler, a multi-evening festival that has attracted some of the biggest acts in acoustic music. The full schedule has not been set, but two new acts are slated to make their Aspen debuts: Donna the Buffalo, an upstate New York band that combines bluegrass, zydeco and rock, closes the festival on March 19. And Vishten, a young band from Cape Breton that features fiddles, accordion and a French accent, performs on a date yet to be decided.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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